Back in March, we headed to Gatineau to enjoy a well-deserved break and wrap up the winter glamping season. More than two months later, I still haven’t managed to put together a post about our trip. The reasons for those struggles have been plenty, with finding time near the top of the list. There was also the writer’s block that has been following me around since last year, failure to find a new angle for writing about the park we have already visited several times before and continuous attempts to perfect the video we filmed for my final video course project. And the more time passed since our trip and spring slowly but surely continued to establish its presence, the sillier it seemed to write about a winter trip.
My creative muse: Where are you?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for quite some time. The answer, surprisingly, or maybe not so much, was delivered by the internet’s collective mind hive. On one of my Google expeditions, I came across an article about creative inspiration or rather a lack of it because the idea that writing only happens under the influence of an ever elusive muse is false. Most writers, in fact, stick to a strict schedule. This was followed by a video from Peter McKinnon, whose YouTube channel I’ve been using to get some tips on photo- and videography. (I recommend checking it out even if you have no clue what aperture or ISO are. Peter’s upbeat personality makes everything sound like fun.) His message was similar to that of the article. Stop waiting for a perfect moment — just get out and do it. And yes, some of the content you produce may not be the best but only by producing it regularly you can get better.
Inspiration comes in all sorts of shapes and forms, but mostly it’s about getting out there and trying new things
So as I sat down and forced myself to put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard, I started to remember why I got into blogging, writing, photography and, most recently, videos. It’s not about likes and shares, although those are always nice, but about expressing myself. Sometimes that important point gets trampled under the weight of social media expectations and the need for validation. During our Gatineau trip, I even had a minor meltdown whining that this whole video course was a stupid idea and vowing I’d never pick up a camera again. Luckily, that feeling passed quickly. A walk through the woods, during which I sank into a waist-deep snow and spent half an hour digging myself out, was quite sobering. The funny thing is that I brought a camera with me, mostly out of habit, but still it looked like that whole thing about not touching my camera wasn’t working. In the end, we finished our video and, as always, had tons of fun doing it. But I’ll get to the video later. First, the park.
Gatineau Park: winter backcountry experience with a side of comfort
At times I feel jealous of Ottawa’s residents because they have this nature gem right at their doorstep. In about 30 minutes they can get away from the hustle of the city and into the solitude of the forest. For us, it is more like a five-hour drive.
What I like about Gatineau in the winter is that it offers a backcountry experience with a side of some comfort. There are a number of roofed accommodations, or as they call them, ready-to-camp units, scattered around the park: four-season tents, yurts and cabins — all furnished with beds, tables, chairs, a kitchen area with some cooking utensils and a wood stove. So a warm shelter is guaranteed but you’ll have to work for it. For starters, all of these accommodations are walk-ins, anywhere between four to ten kilometers, and you can either snowshoe or ski all the way to the front door. Then, of course, there is a matter of chopping wood and getting water and cooking on a wood stove. And without electricity, the cabins and yurts in Gatineau have more of a rustic feel to them than, say, camp cabins in Ontario Parks. Having to use an outhouse adds to the overall ambiance.
We decided to go with a four-season tent, partly because it is the cheapest option but also because we enjoyed our last stay there. We even picked the same tent #258 because it has the best location of the four tents available in the park.
This time our travel to the park was less dramatic. Without a snow storm to hold us back, we arrived in the park at a reasonable time, and with more daylight courtesy of March, we could enjoy our hike to the cabin at a leisurely pace instead of rushing against time through the dark forest like we had to do during our last winter visit. For the most part, the trail was easy and fairly level with a few hills at the end.
Whenever we stay in the same park and, in this case, the same four-season tent, I always wonder how much of the information I should repeat. Should I describe the tent or does it make more sense to refer to the previous post that already has the details and the photos?
Same reasoning applies to activities in the park. Do I need to write about our snowshoe hike to Lac Renaud if the trail was already featured in my blog?
Luckily, this time we did try something new or at least newish. The first time we visited Gatineau, we tried to get to the Lusk Cave but turned back about half-way there. We finally got to the cave later that summer and it was a fun experience wading through it.
So this time we were hoping to visit it in the winter. Equipped with lots of snacks, tea and unwavering resolve not to turn back no matter what, we set out on our expedition. At a little over four kilometres one way, it’s not a long trail but can be a bit challenging in the winter, especially with all the snow this year. We measured it at one point and our walking stick went almost all the way in.
We did get to the cave but didn’t go deep inside to avoid disturbing the bats that often spend the winter here, just peeked in through one of the openings. Looked like water had been hard at work creating masterpieces that were now adorning the edges and hanging around the openings.
On our way back I kept thinking that even if we didn’t make it to the cave, even if we recreated the exact same route from two years ago, the experience would still be different. Because the forest was not the same place we walked through last time. In spite of three feet of snow, spring was already moving in. We could feel its gentle kiss in the sunlight seeping through the trees, we could hear its juices rushing up trunks to the tips of branches, swelling with anticipation, ready to explode into green magnificence. Which reminded me that no place is exactly the same, no matter how many times we visit. All we have to do is look close enough.
The Journey, or all the reasons we get outside
Which brings me to our video project. The assignment was to create a two-minute story called The Journey with a proper script and all, almost like Hollywood. We could, of course, do a trip report: there was enough footage for a two-minute video just from the hike to our shelter. But as I started working on the script, it got me thinking about all the reasons for our trips. While the thrill of new places and experiences is always welcome, that is not why we head outside. The reasons are many: from quite prosaic, like better sleep and opportunities to get away from the hustle, to more poetic, like searching for moments of light and connection. So in the end, The Journey took on a much deeper and broader meaning. Most of it is based on the essay I wrote for The Globe and Mail a couple of years ago, this time brought to life thanks to the acting and musical talents of my family.